Sang Nila Utama

Sang Nila Utama, (a.k.a. Prince Nilatanam or Sri Tri Buana), legendary founder of Singapura, one-time ruler of the Srivijaya Empire based in Palembang, Sumatra. According to the Sejarah Melayu or the "Malay Annals", Sang Nila Utama, was one of three princes, descendants of Raja Iskandar Dzu'l-Karnain (Alexander the Great of Macedonia).

There are variations and interpretations of the Sang Nila Utama story (John Miksic examines six versions in his book, "Archaeological research on the 'Forbidden Hill' of Singapore"), but the common fact among all the versions is that he was one of three princes who descended from heaven. He was also accorded the title of Sri Tri Buana, in Sanskrit meaning "Lord of the Three Worlds" and became the ruler of the Indianised Srivijaya Empire based in Palembang, Sumatra.

According to the popular story of Sang Nila Utama, based on the Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu), two widowed women, Wan Empok and Wan Malini, had grown padi on Bukit Si-Guntang, in Palembang, Sumatra. Then one day three princes, Bichitram, Paladutani and Nilatanam, descended from heaven and the spot where they alighted on, padi-grains turned to gold, leaves to silver, stems became gold alloy, and the hilltop turned into gold. Demang Lebar Daun (equivalent to "Chief Minister"), then the Raja of Palembang (a.k.a. Trimurti Tribuana), heard the story of the princes, went to visit them, and took them back with him to the city. When word spread that these descendants of Raja Iskandar Dzu'l-Karnain (Alexander the Great of Macedonia) were in Palembang, rulers and people from every part of the country came to pay homage. The eldest prince was made the Raja of Menangkabau with the title of Sang Sapurba, the second prince became Raja of Tanjong Pura with the title of Sang Maniaka, and the youngest of the three princes with the title Sang Utama, remained at Palembang, and was made the Raja and the ruler of the indianised Srivijaya Empire based in Palembang, Sumatra.

One day Sri Tri Buana went on an expedition with the aim of discovering a site for another city. He went to Bentan, ruled by wealthy Queen Sakidar Syah who adopted him as her son and successor. Soon he became restless and went on a hunt at Tanjung Bemian. Here he came to a very large, high rock, climbed on to the top, and looking across the water he saw that the land on the other side had sand so white, it looked like a sheet of cloth. He asked the Queen's Chief Minister, Indra Bopal, "What is that stretch of sand that we see yonder? What land is that?" And Bopal answered, "That your Highness, is the land called Temasik". Sri Tri Buana immediately proceeded to this beautiful sandy shore called Temasik, but halfway across the sea, a storm struck and his ship began to sink. Everything was thrown overboard to lighten the boat, and they continued to drift helplessly toward Teluk Belanga. It was suggested that if Sri Tri Buana would throw his crown overboard, they might yet save themselves. He did so, and immediately the weather became calm once more. When they landed on the island, they went hunting on an open ground at Kuala Temasik (the Esplanade stands here today), and saw a strange animal. It disappeared before they could identify it. Demang Lebar Daun suggested that from its appearance, it could be a lion. He decided to name the island settlement Singapura, meaning "Lion City" where singa, in Sanskrit means "lion", and pura means "city". Sri Tri Buana then sent word back to Bentan that he would not return, but would establish a city at Temasik, and call it Singapura.

Sri Tri Buana ruled for forty-eight years before he died, and it is said that he was buried on the hill of Singapura.

Vernon Cornelius-Takahama

Brown, C. C. (Trans). (1970). Sejarah Melayu or Malay Annals (pp. 13-56, 59, 61). Kuala Lumpur: O.U.P.
(Call no.: RSING Malay 959.503 SEJ) 

Hon, J. (1990). Tidal fortunes: A story of change: The Singapore River and Kallang Basin (pp. 3-4). Singapore: Landmark Books.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HON) 

Miksic, J. N. (1984). Archaeological research on the "Forbidden Hill" of Singapore: Excavations at Fort Canning (pp. 19-23). Singapore: National Museum.
(Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 MIK) 

Sheppard, M. (Ed.). (1982). Singapore 150 years (pp. 12-13, 32-39). Singapore: Times Books International: Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society.
(Call No.: RSING 959.57 SIN) 

Turnbull, C. M. (1989). A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (pp. 2-3). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Further Readings
Samuel, D. S. (1991). Singapore's heritage: Through places of historical interest (p. 1). Singapore: Elixir Consultancy Service.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 SAM) 

The information in this article is valid as at 1997 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the library for further reading materials on the topic.

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